HIV test - not a test for AIDS

HIV Testing

The HIV test is not a test for AIDS. It’s a test which shows whether a person has HIV which can in turn lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

For those living in a developed, resource rich country, the best place to have a test is at the doctor’s surgery, a sexual health clinic or specialist HIV/AIDS centre.

Do a quick trawl on the Internet and you’ll find plenty of sites offering DIY kits for home use. Give them a wide berth. They are not recommended by health workers because of lack of accuracy and follow-up counseling.

In most countries HIV testing is confidential and there is no reason why anyone other than the patient and the doctor should know the results.

In developing nations, such as many African countries, which don’t have the luxury of good healthcare, testing is not widely available. Some specialist clinics are set up in key areas and the more enlightened countries have same day testing vans which travel from one region to another.

The big question to ask is why are you having the test in the first place? Is it to put your mind at rest or confirm a suspicion? It can certainly do both. For the majority of people the test is negative but for those who test positive there are many things that can be done to help deal with the social and health impacts.

Types of HIV Tests Available

There are three types of test, the most common being the HIV antibody test. When the virus enters the system, antibodies are produced in response to the infection, so if a person has antibodies to HIV in their blood then they are deemed HIV positive. If there are no antibodies present they do not have the virus. There is no point having this test during a moment of panic after unprotected sex the night before. For many people it takes three months for these antibodies to develop and in some cases it can take up to six.

So it’s best to wait at least three months after the last risk period before having the test. During this period, if a person is infected with the virus they can still pass it on through unprotected sex, dirty needles or breast milk despite no antibodies showing up in the blood.

Another type of test is the P24 antigen test which is usually used for blood screening. It detects the P24 antigen protein which is present in large amounts in people with HIV. It can be done very early on in the infection and can detect the virus before the antibody test.

The third test is a viral load test. This is reserved for people who already know they’re HIV positive and is used for testing the level of the virus in the blood.

In each of the three tests a small amount of blood is taken from the arm then sent to a lab to be tested. If or some reason a person hates having their blood taken, it can be done orally through saliva, though few countries besides America make this test widely available. Depending on where the test is done it can take anything up to two weeks to get the results.

Rapid testing is also available, giving within 30 minutes. These are single use tests which don’t require lab services – ideal for countries where health provision is poor.



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